It doesn’t matter what holiday we are celebrating, my attendance at my son’s nursery school parties is usually tardy, at best. On a typical work day, picking my son up from school by 6PM (the time when school closes) is challenging. On the days when he has a school party and I am expected there by 5:30PM, the end of my work day looks like outtakes from the Hunger Games. After rushing across the city, I stand sweaty and breathless as I punch in the security code on his school door, but as I turn the knob I always take a deep breath and hope that when I open it the party won’t already be over. How can it possibly be over before 6PM, you may be wondering? Inevitably these parties don’t actually start at 5:30, they start as soon as the other parents start arriving to pick up their kids… at 5, 5:15… I’m not sure when because I’m never there. The kids, being 2-3 years old, have a short attention span and therefore once they have consumed the party snacks and finished their juice boxes, are ready to go home for the day and therefore the party starts to dissipate pretty quickly. I usually arrive at the point when all the kids are running in circles buzzing with sugar, the parents are distractedly looking for lost mittens/boots/hats, and the teachers are cleaning up the pizza crusts and brownie crumbs.
Last summer they had an ice cream party, which I knew that N would love. I rushed my pregnant self there in 90 degree weather and as I stood at the door taking my deep breath, N and his dad walked out ready to go home. The party was over, the ice cream was gone, and a sticky N was giddy with stories about how great it all was. Past tense. As in, you missed it, mommy. I was crushed.
On the day of his next school party, I had a medical student working with me and we had a busy afternoon. When my last patient of the day did not show up, I said to the student, “I might actually get out of here in time to make it to the party!” I had explained to her my frustration in being the absentee parent. As the daughter of a physician mom, she told me, “If it makes you feel better, my mom missed most of my school parties but it never felt like she was missing. I remember her being there when it was important. She came to the things she knew I needed her there for and when she wasn’t there, I didn’t resent her.” I smiled proudly at her as if she were my own grown daughter, with hope that someday my children may say the same. Then I ran out of there to make it to the party!
The holiday season reminds me of all the parents who have to miss their children’s holiday events, whether it is a party, recital, play, etc, due to work. I know how heart-wrenching it can be to have your child upset that you can’t be there and the guilt that you place on yourself. There are so many reasons why we can’t be there, but children don’t understand any of them yet. I have seen my coworkers with older children stress over this and know that it will only get more complicated as my children’s awareness increases as do the demands on my time. The medical student gave me comfort though that my children may one day understand the working parent dilemma and that these individual absences will mean less in the big picture. I know that there will be many times in the future that I, along with many working parents, will stand at that door, pausing to pray that I am making the right choices, in the right place, and doing right by my kids.